Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

More than a century of praise and worship

John Lennard leads the 
historic church.

John Lennard leads the historic church.

The pages of the church minutes and membership have faded over the years, but the names remain clear — if not the details.

You learn when they were born and baptized. But there is no explanation of a certain punishment that shows up next to several of the names of the early congregants at the Withlacoochee Missionary Baptist Church.

Ex-communication.

In the early 1900s, it seems, there was a fine line between saint and sinner.

Iva Bryant is 88. When she was a little girl, she attended the church just outside Dade City. The elders cracked down on any misbehavior, she recalls, "any time you didn't do the right thing."

At the Cummer Cypress Co. town called Cumpresco, men worked in the sawmills and most everyone attended the Withlacoochee Missionary Baptist Church. As a young teenager, Bryant was baptized in the Withlacoochee River in her white dress as men stood guard against alligators. The rules of the church were strictly enforced. Members were dismissed for even the slightest disorderly conduct.

"They don't do that much the way they used to," Bryant said.

As one of the few survivors of the former company town, Bryant has a special charge. She keeps the original church conference minutes and membership rolls dating as far back as 1892. But her responsibility isn't just to safeguard the names and memories of those faithful ancestors who founded the small church in 1886. She must also keep the faith.

And that hasn't always been easy. Over the past 50 years, the rural congregation has split over doctrinal or operational differences. Several other east Pasco churches formed as offshoots. The congregation also moved several times along River Road to be closer to Dade City, but later returned to the current location near the Green Swamp in the late 1970s.

This congregation's survival is no mere chance.

"This church is here because of the determination of people like granny who didn't want to let it die," said Bryant's grandson, Mark Floyd.

That determination and faith draws Bryant to the old building on Sunday morning with her daughter, Alma Surratt. Grandson Terrell Floyd leads the song service. There are only two dozen worshipers — more people on the prayer list than in the pews. The mood is informal. Pastor John Lennard wears one of the two ties in the house. The other is a visiting newspaper columnist whose jacket and dress slacks stand out among the jeans and plaid shirts.

Some people believe that a bigger church is a better church. Worship for them is often more entertainment than enlightenment. Sunday morning service can resemble a concert experience.

But at Withlacoochee Missionary Baptist, you still hear strains of the same songs of the faith passed down by those men and women 122 years ago: The Old Rugged Cross, Shall We Gather at the River, Blessed Assurance.

These songs stir the soul.

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4602 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602.

More than a century of praise and worship 03/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 9:38am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Review: Bruno Mars' charisma glitters like gold at Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Nothing in this world should be as easy as Bruno Mars makes it look. Not singing, not dancing, and certainly not playfully seducing more than 17,500 starry-eyed Tampa fans with one of pop music’s best bands at your back.

    Bruno Mars performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Oct. 19, 2017.
  2. Mikhail Sergachev scores twice as Lightning shuts out Blue Jackets (w/ video)

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev said he blacked out for a few seconds after his first NHL goal Thursday night, a rocket slap shot from the point.

    Mikhail Sergachev, front, looks like he’s very in the moment with teammate Dan Girardi after scoring his first NHL goal, though he says he blacked out for a bit. He scores again in the second.
  3. Dodgers rout Cubs 11-1 to win pennant, head to World Series for first time since '88

    Ml

    CHICAGO — Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an LA story three decades in the making.

    The Dodgers celebrate their Game 5 victory Thursday night over the Cubs at Wrigley Field, putting Los Angeles in the World Series for the first time since 1988.
  4. Another suspicious death in Tampa's Seminole Heights

    Crime

    TAMPA — Police were investigating what they were calling a suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night, near the location of two fatal shootings last week.

    Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan addresses reporters about the latest suspicious death in southeast Seminole Heights Thursday night. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL | Times]
  5. Duke tops preseason coaches' basketball poll; Gators No. 7

    College

    Duke has been tabbed basketball's preseason No. 1 for the second straight season in the coaches' poll, released Thursday.

    Florida point guard Chris Chiozza launches the shot of last season’s NCAA Tournament, a winning 3
against Wisconsin that put the Gators into the Elite Eight. Chiozza returns to lead a UF team that’s getting its share of preseason attention, including a No. 7 ranking in the coaches’ poll.